Editorial note: One of the ongoing features on this website will be answering questions I come across, asked by theists. I may slightly modify these questions, for brevity and clarity, but these are their real questions. I will be providing straight answers, from my atheistic perspective. This particular question wasn’t addressed to me, but it’s a question I see believers ask often on religious forums.
Why do millions of people read bestsellers, cover to cover, but hardly anybody actually reads through the Bible?
People read books for reasons such as enjoyment, catharsis, and knowledge. Hundreds of millions of people read the Harry Potter series because the books are entertaining, imaginative, emotionally engaging, resonant with themes that matter to readers, and occasionally wise. They read The Language Instinct because it’s fascinating, intellectually stimulating, full of useful information that helps people better understand ourselves and our world, and good fun.
Conversely, they don’t read the Bible because the Bible is none of those things. People don’t read it because, on some level, they recognize it for what it is. False. Ignorant. Barbaric. Irrelevant to their lives.
If people considered the Bible a worthwhile read, they’d read it. It’s that simple.
That’s not to say there are no beautiful passages, interesting metaphors, or pearls of genuine wisdom in the Bible. There are a few — remarkably few — here and there. But you have to wade through endless rubbish to get to them. Such as the many passages of God’s unparalleled cruelty, like this, this, and this. And the God-commanded and God-enabled genocides, so myriad that the anonymous Bible authors sometimes had to just compile them into lists, such as this, rather than give full accounts for each. And the numerous divine legal codes ordering execution of non-virginal brides, stubborn kids, witches, blasphemers, beastialists, false prophets, fortune-tellers, non-believers, followers of other religions, people who engage in homosexual acts, people who don’t listen to priests, people who work on weekends, and a variety of other kinds of people who have harmed nobody. And the endless genealogies filled with skipped generations and contradictions, such as this. And all of the primitive magic rituals and spells, as I discussed in my previous post. And the uncomfortably sycophantic flavor of the multitude of praises, such as this, this, this, and this. And the countless dictates about how to sacrifice animals to God, such as this, with great repetition of the themes that God likes the aroma of burning flesh, but hates yeast. All interspersed with a collection of some of the most vile, perverted, sadistic, pointless stories to be found anywhere in the world history of literature, such as this.
People don’t read the Bible because they don’t want this reprehensible nonsense. Even most of those who begin to read it through soon stop, because it is so detestable. Perhaps those who lament how few people read it should be glad, since, as Penn Jillette has noted many times, the fastest way to make a Christian into an unbeliever is to get her / him to actually read it in its entirety.
A related question should be: If the Bible is what many people say it is — the inspired, inerrant word of God — then why is it so awful that even most believers avoid ever reading it?
Why is the purportedly “Greatest Story Ever Told” an utterly stultifying read, even for most Christians? Is God Almighty really a worse storyteller than J.K. Rowling and Stephen King?
Why is the Bible so unclear that 40,000 different Christian sects disagree with each other over every single point of biblical theology? Is God completely inept at clearly articulating His message?
Why is it filled with false and harmful beliefs, but devoid of any real knowledge that would’ve greatly improved people’s lives through the millennia? For example, why does the Bible attribute leprosy to a curse by God (such as 2 Kings 15:5), to be cured through divine intervention (such as Matthew 8:1-3) — rather than attribute leprosy to infection with the germ Mycobacteria leprae, to be cured with targeted antibiotics?
Why is the Bible filled with thousands of contradictions? For example, why does it give two different dates for when Jesus was born, one before 4 B.C., the other at least a decade later, after 6 A.D.? (Matthew 2:1 & the date of King Herod the Great’s death, April, 4 B.C.; Luke 2:1-4 & the date Quirinius became Governor of Syria, 6 A.D.)
These are questions believers will have to answer for themselves. For me, the answer is apparent: because the Bible was written by fallible, uninformed people, without Heavenly aid.